Diverse Disciples

July 6, 2011

There was a lot to celebrate at the recent
Pride parades, from the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York
State to the reframing of ordination standards in the PCUSA.
The LGBT rights movement has hit its share of bumps; for many, the shock of
California's Prop 8 winning a majority vote hasn't
worn off. Still, the rapid shift in public opinion about gay rights seems to
confirm that the trajectory of the universe remains long but justice-leaning.
(I'm pretty sure that MLK quote isn't
fabricated.)

While I support gay rights, I find myself
oddly unenthusiastic about the prospect of my own denomination, the Disciples
of Christ, eventually considering a resolution to become open and affirming. Our
fiercely congregational polity means that, while a General Assembly vote might
have symbolic power, practically speaking it cannot coerce dissenting regions
to change. In 1997 the General Assembly voted to enter a period of discernment
about the participation of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. In the
meantime, various congregations and regions continued to operate according to
their own convictions. Some Disciple clergy openly perform same-sex weddings;
some don't. Openly gay candidates who are gifted and called to ministry may be
ordained in some regions but not in others.

But there's a more important reason that I'm
reluctant to join the push for another vote: I appreciate how this season of
discernment has allowed for Christians of diverse opinions to coexist--to commune--in a manner that is rare in our
polarized culture. Despite the absolutism of many on both sides, among
Disciples there has been room for a whole spectrum of opinion at the proverbial
and sacramental table.

The situation is far from perfect. Many
pastors have been forced to choose whether to conceal their sexual orientation,
relocate or serve a congregation without the benefit of ordination or standing.
On the other hand, some theologically diverse ministry commissions have
unanimously recommended openly gay candidates for ordination--not because of a
policy that forbids discrimination, but because, like the circumcised believers
who were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured on on the
Gentiles, they could not deny the evidence.

I doubt these commissions would have reached
the same result if their votes centered on an abstract issue instead of a
person.